Mon, Jul 11, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Berlin bash

Street art and techno museums are set to take over the art scene in the German capital

By Eloi Rouyer  /  AFP, Berlin

This file photo taken on May 20, 2016 shows Yasha Young, second left, head of the Urban Nation foundation, and guests attending an opening, in front of a mural by Polish artist Tankpetrol at the Urban Nation museum for urban contemporary art in Berlin.

Photo: AFP

Berlin, the cash-strapped capital of Europe’s top economy, has long tried to turn alternative culture into gold, but ambitious new bids to present underground art in museum settings could break new ground.

Street art and techno music took root across the city in the hothouse environment of post-Wall Berlin, drawing young creative types from around the world with cheap rents and disused industrial spaces ripe for the taking. But as the city’s trademark brand of gritty coolness became globally renowned and then gradually more mainstream, Berlin has tried to capture lightning in a bottle: capitalizing on the best of its art and nightlife scene without losing the spark that made it so unique in the first place.

A prime example of that high-wire act is the legendary nightclub Tresor. A former underground safe room for a pre-war department store that later languished in the Wall’s no-man’s land, Tresor in 1991 quickly became the top dance club in Berlin’s budding techno scene.

Now celebrating its 25th birthday, it still attracts an international crowd of electronic music fans but has long since been supplanted by younger rivals such as Berghain, a hedonist temple frequently named the world’s best club.

However Tresor’s founder Dmitri Hegemann, 60, is ready to take his project to the next level with a museum dedicated to techno housed in the disused power station where the club moved in 2007.

He says such spontaneity and knack for reinvention have served Berlin well.

“None of the plans laid for the future of the city after the fall of the Wall worked out,” Hegemann said.

“An ‘economy of niches’ ended up in its place: open a club or a gallery, a restaurant, a bar, etc. That economy of niches dictated what to do next, and it’s what has made Berlin so attractive.”


Hegemann noted that there were 30 million overnight stays in Berlin last year and he estimates that “50 to 60 percent” of the visitors were attracted by subculture.

“Today 80 percent of our clientele doesn’t speak German. But what all these people have in common is that they have been marked by this ‘culture of renewal’ that took shape here, which became a movement and has transformed Berlin up until today.”

Hegemann, for his part, says “techno was the impetus” for all that upheaval and ferment.

Meanwhile Berlin’s prolific street artists have long gone from being spray-can wielding outlaws to an accepted and even treasured part of the Berlin cityscape.

Perhaps the ultimate example is the Wall itself, which for those on the free, western side became a giant canvas for graffiti, angry political slogans and yes, museum-quality art.

The longest remaining stretch, the East Side Gallery, attracts smartphone-wielding crowds with its murals which were painted in 1990 and recently restored.

Abandoned lots, often the remains of residential buildings bombed out during World War II, also provide walls for artist murals although rapid gentrification is quickly eating up such spaces.

Enter the Urban Nation foundation run by former gallery owner Yasha Young, who at the end of May launched work on a museum devoted to “contemporary urban art” set to open next year.

Young, like Hegemann, is aware that showcasing alternative culture in a museum runs the risk of sapping some of its vitality but says it is one worth taking.

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